Information for young people on exam stress, with advice on how to cope and where to go for support.
Exams can come with a lot of pressure and make us feel really stressed.
You might feel especially worried because of changes to exams and assessments since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
If you're struggling to cope, you're not alone. We're here to help you manage your feelings around exams and find ways to cope.
This page covers:
Lots of us know what it's like to feel stressed, but it's not easy to describe what stress is.
There's no single definition of stress, and it might feel different for you than it does for someone else. How we experience stress can feel different at different times. It can also depend on what's causing it.
Exam stress can be more than feeling nervous on the day of an exam. It can also be how you feel building up to exams, during exams and when waiting for results.
Young people we spoke to described exam stress as:
Feeling stressed, worried, or under pressure around exams can be difficult to manage. But there are things that can help – it's about finding what's right for you.
Exams can be stressful on their own, but other things might cause you to feel worse. These might include:
You may also feel stressed for reasons that aren't listed here. We're all different and that's okay.
“Exam stress for me came from a fear about my future. For me it felt like there were multiple sources placing pressure on me.”
“My GCSEs were cancelled so my A-Levels this year are my first official exams that I've had to sit. I feel like many in my year would vouch for the fact that it feels like no matter how much revision we do, we will always feel unprepared, as we've never had this experience before.”
When feelings of stress become too much to manage, this can affect our mental health.
Stress can also make existing mental health problems feel harder to cope with. For more information, see our page on understanding mental health.
“For me exam stress is mainly about worrying, but it's also a whole variety of emotions – a sort of mood swing.”
Exam stress can feel like a lot to cope with, but there are things you can do to improve your wellbeing. We have tips and ideas to help you cope at different times:
Remember: we are all unique, so what works for you might be different to what works for someone else. You might also have to try a few different things to see what works best.
You might be on study leave or you might have to continue going to school. You might also be working a part-time job. The exam period can feel long and difficult, and you might feel under pressure.
You can look after yourself in different ways:
For more ideas, see our page on looking after your wellbeing.
“We're making sure we have a balance of relaxation as well… We all struggle with our mental health so trying to find this balance is extremely important.”
While you're preparing an exam, you could try lowering stress levels by:
Remember: feeling stressed about exams is normal, but you don't have to struggle on your own.
To help cope with stress on the day of your exam, you could:
“I was nervous but said to myself ‘by Thursday evening it will be done’. Whatever happens, when I come home I can relax, enjoy it and don't have to stress for the future.”
To cope with stress and difficult feelings after an exam, you could:
Remember: you can only try your best. Each new day is a chance to start again.
“Even if you don't do well on tests, that doesn't mean you're any less worthy than anyone else. It may just mean you're less strong in how the school tests for knowledge.”
Your teachers might be able to offer support to help with your exams. You could ask for help with:
Your school might be able to offer you more support, such as a counselling service.
If you have a mental health problem that counts as a disability, you may also be entitled to something called reasonable adjustments. For more information about reasonable adjustments, see our page on diagnosis.
If you're not sure what's available, ask a trusted adult like a teacher or school nurse what support they can offer.
“I have asked for help at school from teachers, and they have been an excellent source of help. Some subjects also have after-school revision sessions, which I find really helpful.”
Not all of us can find the support we need from school or college. If you feel like things are getting too much, you could:
“Everyone has value and lots of people who don't do well in exams can add value to society and the world.”
It may be face-to-face, over the phone or over video call.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This information was published in April 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.